A Simple Way to Create New Habits: Use the Three “R’s”

July 27, 2018
women runs down a sidewalk at sunset

We all have our weaknesses. Whether it’s watching too many episodes in a row of an addicting show on Netflix, overindulging in cheese-covered nachos, or skipping an early run to sleep in, we all have our bad habits. It’s easier to succumb to the temptation of these kinds of habits rather than take on the uncomfortable task of making positive changes.

Statistically speaking, about 40% of our lives are spent doing routine tasks. This is important, because if we constantly fall into routines that aren’t beneficial or healthy, that 40% can greatly impact our life goals.

James Clear, an author and ideas advocate, categorizes the creation of all habits (whether good or bad) as a result of the three “R’s”: Reminder, Routine, and Reward.

An example: You think of breakfast and your tummy grumbles (reminder), you cook breakfast (routine), then you eat the food (reward). There are plenty of examples of these small routines that occur all throughout your day that you don’t even notice.

The downfall is, bad habits are within those routines as well. You’re feeling tired (reminder), you cancel your morning run and hit snooze (routine), then you sleep in (reward). But one of your big goals this year is to get in shape and build endurance! There is a conflict of interest when the three R’s support habits that aren’t aligned with your goals.

Here is how to adjust the three “R’s” to create positive habits:

Change your response to the first “R” (reminder).
If you want to stop mindless snacking when watching TV in the evening, it’s much easier to change the desire for a snack (reminder) than it is to change the routine of eating the snack when you’re triggered by the desire. Instead, change what reminds you of snacking (watching TV). Let’s say you start getting the munchies once you begin the second episode of your favorite show. Stop the cue that causes you to snack by turning off the TV and picking up a book to read instead. Even better, if you use watching TV as a way to wind down at the end of the day find a new way to wind down. Try going for a walk, learning a new craft or skill, or meditating!

Another example: If you’re trying to quit smoking and you always have the urge for a cigarette right after you eat dinner (the reminder), then change how you enjoy your dinner. If you always eat in front of the television, eat outside if the weather is nice. Always eat alone? Try sharing dinner with friends or family a couple of nights a week. Creating a change in your reminder trigger will make it easier to ultimately change your routine.

Add new habits on the end of routines already in place.
You already have your routines, so why not make the new positive changes ride on their coattails? How many times have you been at a restaurant and ordered a beer before you remembered that you were going to cut back on drinking alcohol this week? Have you ever reached the end of the day and realized you didn’t even come close to drinking the amount of water you had hoped to?

Instead of trying to drastically change your regular habits by trying to squeeze new habits into your already busy life, tack them on to routines you already have in place. For example: If trying to cut back on alcohol, begin the routine of ordering a large glass of water or seltzer with your drink. Use the water to cancel out the diuretic properties of the alcohol, then the next time you are about to order another just get a refill of water or seltzer instead.

If trying to drink more water throughout your day, drink a 12-ounce glass of water every time you come back from the bathroom. Think about replacing the water you just displaced. Another tactic is when you get the cue that you’re hungry (reminder), drink a large glass of water before you eat (routine).

Although change does take time, making these small adjustments will make a big difference throughout your life. Eventually the reminders you’ve set up will become such a regular part of your routine that you’ll soon reap all of the new and exciting rewards!

[Credit: Faletto, Joanie. “The Secret to Creating New Habits that Stick is the Three “R’s”. Curiosity.]

Tags: health tips, wellness, personal growth, productivity, happiness, mindfullness, motivation